Considering a Return to School?

So you’re a young veteran who has recently separated from active duty in one of the branches of the United States military, and you’re weighing the pros and cons of getting a full-time civilian job or, alternatively, possibly returning to school full-time.  As it says in various places in our mission statement and throughout our website, Af2Wf is dedicated to assisting recently separated young vets find gainful, career-oriented (generally full-time) civilian employment which leverages their talents and honors their service.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re not equally supportive of education and all that it can bring.

This page is meant to assist young veterans in sharpening your thinking in the event that you’re considering the possibility of pursuing additional education, either alongside or instead of full-time civilian employment.  First, a couple of things to consider: on the one hand, educational attainment continues to among the most powerful determinants to a person’s current and eventual earning potential in an increasingly competitive (and increasingly globalized) workplace.  On the other, the costs of education today are more expensive than ever, making it more critical than ever that the decisions you make regarding your educational options are the very best ones for you.  With that in mind, some thoughts for you to consider:

If you’re thinking about going back to school right now, what’s your primary motivation in considering it? For some people, it’s an easy choice—they’re fortunate enough to know exactly where they want to go and have determined that an educational program or credential is necessary in order to properly get there.  For others, especially those who might not have had a good, clear plan of action following their separation from active duty, continuing education can be an attractive general notion, since by definition while you’re in school there’s no immediate pressure to make concise plans or take concrete steps toward an eventual career path.  This is especially true if you’re not one of those lucky folks who know exactly where you want to wind up after completing this next round of schooling.  But that doesn’t mean those pressures won’t return when you’re no longer in school.  This is especially true if you wind up not completing that course of study or receiving that degree.

If you’re a young vet who’s spent any time at military job fairs, or on Internet discussion sites such as LinkedIn, you’ve probably become aware of one or perhaps many of the educational options currently available to post-9/11 veterans.  Further, there is no shortage of public and private educational institutions, or their agents, that will offer you entrance and either apply your Montgomery GI Bill or other veteran educational benefits which you have earned, or assist you in securing other student loans that you can use toward your tuition.  And while that’s obviously in their best interest, are you sure it’s in yours at the current time?  You can only use your GI Bill tuition benefits once, so think of them as precious.

Before using them, or taking on any other kind of student loan debt, seriously contemplate the honest answers to a few more related questions.  Are you sure this particular educational institution or course of study is really what you want to do, either for deeply held personal reasons, or as a path toward a rewarding (financially and otherwise) career?  It’s one thing to see the appeal of becoming a graphic artist, or a recording engineer, or a medical assistant, or a lawyer or some other profession or trade. It’s another to consider how badly you really want to do that, especially given the possible time and expense that may be entailed.

On a related note, do you currently have the time- and the peace of mind required to focus properly in a relatively unstructured academic setting– to properly devote yourself and ensure the best possible outcome?  This isn’t a trivial question at all.  Think about it.  Another question you should absolutely consider in this light: What’s your current financial and family situation like?  If you have people in your life counting on you for a level of financial support that’s going to get in the way of making the most out of school, perhaps this is not the best time to go back to school.

Again, your GI Bill benefits are precious: once you’ve used them for one thing, they’re gone forever, whether you complete a course of study or not, and whether that course of study turns out to be right for you or not.  And student loan debt, like credit card debt, can sneak up on you, and become a crushing burden, especially in those cases—all too common these days—where those loans go toward a course of study that fails to yield the desired results, either due to failure to complete a degree or because the course of study turns out not to be right for a particular person in the end.

Education is a tremendous thing.  Access to a vast array of educational opportunities is one of the things that makes the US such a great country.  And the resources allocated to recognizing your service, through the current GI Bill and other programs, are impressive and admirable.  By all means, you should absolutely get the most out of your benefits and take as full advantage of educational opportunities as possible.  But in doing so, make sure you have a clear plan, as well as the necessary time, resources, and peace of mind to give yourself the best possible path to success.

But if those elements are not currently in place, by all means don’t rush it—life is long and your talents are many.  If you’ve recently separated from the service and haven’t yet devised an educational plan that’s deliberate, focused, and properly takes into account your current circumstances, it might make sense to get to work, learn some things about what you want to do, make some money, and give yourself some time.

If that is indeed the case, and you’re currently living in or planning on relocating to Southern California, Af2Wf is glad to be here to assist you in your efforts to find  career-oriented, full-time employment close to home and as soon as possible.